Re-opening of Olympic Stadium for football still four years away

West Ham United named the "first-ranked bidder", although they may have to wait awhile

Robin Scott-Elliot
Wednesday 05 December 2012 23:25
The Olympic Stadium’s future is still not agreed
The Olympic Stadium’s future is still not agreed

Work to convert the Olympic Stadium for its post-Games future is unlikely to begin for about another year despite West Ham United being named the "first-ranked bidder" today as the convoluted process took another baby step forward.

It means the stadium will not be ready to host matches at the 2015 Rugby World Cup – it is on the shortlist – although the snail's pace at which the project is advancing could mean it hosts athletics meetings next summer before construction work begins. If the deal is done for West Ham to move in, it is likely to be 2016 before they physically can do so – which would be after the opening ceremony for the Rio Olympics.

The board of the London Legacy Development Corporation today selected West Ham's as the first choice from four bids on the table – they ruled out Leyton Orient's and a proposal to stage a Formula One race in and around the stadium, and will consider accommodating a business and football college there once the West Ham deal has been finalised.

Boris Johnson, who chairs the LLDC, remains wary of delivering a stadium built and converted with public funding to a Premier League football club without significant accompanying caveats. The London mayor supports the idea of top-flight football being placed at the core of the stadium's future but insists West Ham will have to offer further commercial guarantees before any deal can be completed.

Yesterday's move signals the start of detailed negotiations – both parties say there is no deadline set, although the LLDC hope that it will be settled by March next year. That would signal an autumn start for conversion works on the roof and the installation of retractable seating no more than 16.9 metres from the pitch on all sides. Conversion costs are estimated at £150m.

West Ham remain deeply committed to the move, as they have been since the original process begun – last year they were granted the lease ahead of Tottenham Hotspur only for the government to restart the bidding following legal challenges.

The club believe the two sides are close to agreement. But Johnson wants to ensure that if West Ham were awarded the 99-year lease and the club's owners, David Gold and David Sullivan, then sought to sell the club, there would be some sort of share in any profit for the taxpayer. West Ham maintain that the owners have no interest whatsoever in selling their 65 per cent stake in the club.

The LLDC also want further financial contributions from West Ham, whether through future commercial revenues or towards the conversion costs. Johnson claims that if no deal is reached with the club there is a "plan B" which would entail the stadium hosting concerts and other commercial and sporting events, in particular athletics. That, though, would in all likelihood result in the stadium being run at a loss and requiring on-going public subsidy.

Barry Hearn, chairman of Leyton Orient, is considering whether to mount a legal challenge. He claims the move will kill off his club.

Football's fight

March 2010 West Ham and Newham council announce they are working on a joint bid for the stadium.

Nov '10 Spurs and West Ham are named by Olympic Park Legacy Company as final bidders.

Feb '11 Hammers win bid.

Oct '11 Deal with Newham collapses after judicial review sparked by Spurs and Leyton Orient.

Today West Ham confirmed as preferred bidders.

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